Mastitis 101: How to tell if you have it and what to do


by Lindsay Breedlove Tate, MD

May 11, 2023

If you’re breastfeeding, you may have heard about a condition called mastitis—or maybe you’re wondering whether the pain you’re experiencing is due to mastitis. Mastitis is a common infection that can affect women who are breastfeeding when bacteria enters the breast tissue.

Mastitis is characterized by painful inflammation of the breast. This condition occurs in 2-25% of breastfeeding people and most commonly occurs in the first three months after delivery.

Thankfully for breastfeeding women and their babies, there are ways to easily identify, prevent and treat mastitis, so you can focus on nursing and nourishing your baby.

Mastitis signs and symptoms

Breastfeeding can often be uncomfortable or even painful, but how much pain is normal? Here are the most common symptoms of mastitis to look out for along with pain:

  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Fever and chills from nursing

Some swelling of the nipple area is normal with breastfeeding, but wedge-shaped red spots, hardened lumps and swelling is a sign of mastitis. You may have noticed cracks around your nipples—these cracks are possible entry points for bacteria from your skin or baby’s mouth to then cause infection inside the breast tissue.

How is mastitis treated?

Your provider will likely prescribe an antibiotic to treat the mastitis if it is infected. Left untreated, mastitis can transform into a pus-filled abscess that needs to be surgically drained. But rest assured that mastitis can be easily treated with antibiotics and pain relievers, if needed.

If you think you may be experiencing mastitis, it’s important to get it looked at by your provider before it becomes an abscess.

If you do have mastitis, make sure you also get plenty of rest and stay hydrated to help your body fight the infection.

Can you keep breastfeeding if you have mastitis?

It’s recommended that you continue to breastfeed while treating the mastitis so that you continue to produce milk. Although it may be painful to nurse with mastitis, stopping breastfeeding could impact your milk supply. Nursing with mastitis does not pose a risk to your baby.

How to prevent mastitis

  • Proper breastfeeding technique: The best way to prevent mastitis is to make sure your baby latches correctly while breastfeeding. Lactation consultants can help new mothers make sure they have proper technique. It can also help to nurse from one breast at a time. Empty the first breast’s milk supply before switching to the other.
  • Breastfeed often: Breastfeeding often can help prevent milk from building up in the breast.
  • Keep your breasts clean: Make sure you wash your breasts before and after breastfeeding.
  • Wear a well-fitting bra: A bra that is too tight or too loose can cause problems with milk flow.
  • Take care of yourself: Get plenty of rest and eat a nutritious diet to help keep your body strong and healthy enough to fight off an infection.

Certain factors can increase your risk of getting mastitis, including clogged milk ducts and baby’s facial abnormalities, like cleft palates, which are more likely to trigger mastitis in their mothers.

If you have any questions about how to prevent or treat mastitis, talk to your doctor.

Find an OBGYN near you today.

About the Author

Lindsay Breedlove Tate, MD, is an OBGYN on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth.

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